Maybe all those new age start-ups that anointed themselves industry disruptors weren’t exaggerating after all. As Tech Crunch reports, Zirtual , an online, on-demand provider of administrative services did just that: today, Zirtual, without advance notice suspended service, due to “market circumstances and financial constraints” — causing enormous disruption for customers who had come to rely on company for virtual assistance.
Ironically, many of the selling points that Zirtual claimed set it apart from using Craig’s List or personal referrals to find an assistant — such as quality control, established systems for the VA to follow, and guaranteed refunds or replacements for under performers – have now exacerbated inconvenience to customers resulting from the service suspension. For example, as I learned from my own month-long trial of Zirtual, assistants are required to transmit all written assignments – such as research summaries or list of websites on dog-sitting – through posting to Google Docs. By corralling assistants into one system used by many (but not all) potential customers, Zirtual could truthfully claim that it “trained” its assistants. Unfortunately, in practice, this “training” made the service less useful to customers. This is because Zirtual imposed time limits on the availability of information in Google Documents and if it wasn’t downloaded within a week, it would disappear. As a Zirtual client, I wasn’t a fan of this system – many times, I was too busy to immediately download the information, and since I don’t use Google docs as a base system, it was inconvenient to be forced to go into yet another portal. And as a Zirtual client whose service has now gone down, I’d be really ticked off if research that I’d requested vanished into the ether.
Likewise, while Zirtual promised a refund or back-up if an individual assistant didn’t work out, it never contemplated – and customers never expected – that the entire platform might vanish. Having grown dependent on a steady stream of Zirtual services – which is what Zirtual wanted – customers must scramble even harder to find replacements now that supply has been cut off.
For solo and small firm lawyers, on-demand services for virtual assistants, bookkeepers, house-cleaners or handymen are a good idea in theory because they spare firms from the investment of a full time hire, and instead, allow them to pay for only those services they need, when they need them. Still, even though on-demand services don’t require a long-term commitment, as the recent Zirtual experience shows, these services aren’t risk-free. Below is a short checklist of ways that you can enjoy the benefits of an on-demand administrative assistance while minimizing risk. [click to continue…]